Keskuspuisto offers excellent opportunities for a wide range of recreational activities, especially cycling, so you can get blow all the dust out of your throat and give your ears a rest from all the traffic noises. If you are unfamiliar with the network of trails through Helsinki’s “Central Park”, you should approach it with all the seriousness of an adventure into the unknown.
When you think of most parks in Helsinki, you think of well-kept lawns bordered by busy boulevards on either side with a gravel path down the middle. Helsinki’s Central Park is actually a large forest area that stretches northwards from the city centre and is crisscrossed with recreational trails. The park begins on the north side of the Töölönlahti bay and continues all the way to northernmost city border at Haltiala and the Vantaanjoki river.
Covering a total area of around a thousand hectares, Keskuspuisto is ten kilometres long and represents very well the rich and varied nature of Finland’s southern coastal regions. The variable terrain is also home to a lot of birdlife and mammal species. In short, it is the perfect place to surround yourself by the sounds of nature and the fresh green environment!
The enormous park has something for everyone, including cyclists. The trails are easy to ride along, and it’s relatively simple not to lose your heading by sticking to the main trails. In fact, it’s almost impossible to get lost in Keskuspuisto, as the park is relatively narrow and bordered on both sides by residential areas. Heading down trails you’ve never been down before is one of the joys of exploring the park. For example, it’s easy to have an adventure in Paloheinä if you simply turn off the main trail too early – or not at all.
Personally, I like to divide the park into sections defined by its bridges and underpasses. The first underpass is at Pasila, followed by two other underpasses at the pet cemetery and under Metsäläntie. To get to Pirkkola you have to either go over the bridge or cross the road beneath it and then cross the Kehä I ring road to Paloheinä.
Taking a break is one of the best parts of exploring the park
After a suitable distance you will find plenty of excellent rest areas and refreshments. Riding from south to north, you will come across the first one after around 5 kilometres and two underpasses: Maunulan Maja. This cosy hiking lodge serves delicious donuts and is the perfect place for planning the next leg of your journey. Maunulan Maja might come too soon for some cyclists, whose eyes will still be firmly on the horizon.
The next suitable rest area comes after three bridges: Pirkkola Swimming Hall. The café there may not be the most romantic, but if you need a rest, it’s perfectly fine. In summertime, you can even take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool to cool off, and the last time I was there, I was able to borrow table tennis racquets from the café or the ticket desk and play with friends on the nearby ping pong tables.
From Pirkkola you can continue towards Paloheinä, where you will find another recreational hut at the Paloheinä recreational area. This popular rest area was built back in 1981, but despite its modest looks from the outside, it is nice and cosy inside – and in summertime you can even enjoy ice creams outside. I visited the hut once when they were serving a delicious soup lunch; maybe I just got lucky, so if you really want the soup, it’s best to call and check in advance.
From Paloheinä you can continue onwards to Helsinki’s outlying regions in two different directions. You can head for the traditional Pitkäkoski hiking lodge and café or the Haltiala farm more to the east, where you will find the café and lunch restaurant Wanha Pehtoori. At Pitkäkoski you should definitely enjoy a coffee and donut – in wintertime especially, the warmth and sugariness of both products do you a world of good. I haven’t visited Wanha Pehtoori too many times, but I will never forget one time in January when I was cycling in minus 25-degree conditions and I stopped into the café to warm up my fingers and toes with a delicious soup and home-baked bread. While you are at the Haltiala farm, you can also stop and enjoy the farm animals.
Lots more to see in addition to the beautiful nature
Helsinki’s Central Park has lots of places and buildings related to the city’s past and present. At the southern end of the park you will find the Laakso Hippodrome, which was constructed for the 1952 Summer Olympics. Close to the Ruskeasuo stables you will also find an old ski jumping hill. The pet cemetery in the park is an impressive sight at night when the candles are burning. A line of fortifications with trenches and artillery positions dating back to the First World War can also be found in the park.
At Maunulan Maja you can enjoy a snack, take a sauna or simply relax. The hiking lodge serves coffee, refreshments, sandwiches and tasty buns. The lodge is the perfect place to access the excellent network of recreational and cross-country ski trails in the park.
The recreational hut at the Paloheinä recreational area is the perfect base for exploring the northernmost section of the park. The Haltiavuori Nature Trail and Forest Trail meander through the terrain of Paloheinä and Haltiala. Further information about Keskuspuisto and other recreational areas in the City of Helsinki is available on the Green Hearts website.
Helsinki’s Central Park offers something for everyone and is highly recommended even if you don’t have a specific destination in mind.